An Interview with Karen Ranney

24 Mar
Karen Ranney is the bestselling author romance novels. Her most recent book is An American in Scotland.

Karen Ranney is the bestselling romance author whose most recent book, An American in Scotlandtakes place during the American Civil War.

Karen Ranney wanted to be a writer from the time she was five years old and filled her Big Chief tablet with stories. People in stories did amazing things and she was too shy to do anything amazing. Years spent in Japan, Paris, and Italy, however, not only fueled her imagination but proved she wasn’t that shy after all. Now a New York Times and USA Today bestseller, she lives in San Antonio, Texas.

To read an exercise on giving characters the opportunity to change and act dramatically and an excerpt from An American in Scotland, click here.

In this interview, Ranney discusses setting as character, the difference between love and sex scenes, and straddling the needs of historical narratives and contemporary readers.

Michael Noll

I want to say up front that Romance isn’t a genre I know very well, and so I was excited to read your novel because I wanted to learn how it works. To that end, I was surprised at how much the novel contained beyond what the cover might suggest: shirtless guy and beautiful woman. Or, to put it another way, the term romance is a lot bigger than I imagined. Setting is as important as love. For lack of a better word, there is something romantic about place, which I guess should make sense given that the title suggests more about place than anything else. What’s your approach to the setting and world of your novels? Are you trying to make readers fall in love with them as much as with the characters?

Karen Ranney

Place is very important to me. In some books it has a greater impact on me than on others. For example, A Scotsman in Love was set in a once deserted manor house that intrigued me. Another example is the MacIain trilogy that revolves around a house outside Edinburgh. In those books the setting was almost another character.

I enjoy placing my books in Victorian Scotland because, to me, it was the era of inventions and scientific achievement.

In An American in Scotland, I had to give readers a flavor of each locale, but I had three major settings, so I couldn’t linger too long in any one place. (Why make it easy on myself when I could visit Scotland, Nassau, and America all in one book?)

Michael Noll

The novel is quite chaste. The prelude to the kiss seems to be much more important than the kiss itself—and it takes up a great many pages. How do you maintain and gradually increase the tension between two characters who we know will eventually fall into each other’s arms?

Karen Ranney

I have always maintained that it’s easier to write a sex scene than it is a love scene. I always try to have the characters fall in love with each other before they actually consummate that love. It seems to me that emotions are more important than physical activity.

Also, putting sex in the context of 19th century mores, even kissing someone was a great moral leap. Each step toward the journey to bed is a form of commitment.

Michael Noll

Along those same lines, I admire the way that the novel draws out its sex scenes. For example, there’s a scene when Rose and Duncan bathe together, which leads toward what such baths tend to lead to, but then something interrupts them—Duncan sees something that distracts him. How do you know how much you can draw out such as scene before readers begin skimming to get to the stuff they know is coming and really want to read?

Karen Ranney

Again, it’s a love scene as opposed to a sex scene—or at least that’s how I hope the reader interprets it. Everything that goes on in that scene is both an act of revelation and one of commitment. The characters give of themselves not just physically but emotionally. Maybe even spiritually if I write it correctly. You can’t skip through the scene because it’s pivotal in the give and take between the characters. It shows why they’re falling in love and how.

Michael Noll

Karen Ranney's novel An American in Scotland follows an American woman who sails through the Union blockade of Charleston in order to pursue a sale and romance in Scotland.

Karen Ranney’s novel An American in Scotland follows an American woman who sails through the Union blockade of Charleston in order to pursue a sale and romance in Scotland.

The novel contains a fair bit of language about sin and virtue, and because it’s set in the mid-1800s, there are some time-appropriate ideas about gender. I bring this up because I heard a review the other day of the Downton Abbey finale, and the reviewer said that historical dramas are always more about the audience than the age and characters they’re portraying. Do you think this is true of your novel as well?

Karen Ranney

If I understand what you’re asking, let me answer this way: Robert Burns wrote poetry in the vernacular Scots. If I wrote a book like that today no one could understand it. Consequently, I interpret Scottish English with an ear/eye toward my readers. They’re 21st century women. Similarly, interpreting the mores of the 19th century means I have to straddle a line. I have to correctly depict the customs/manners/thinking of the day while interjecting some viewpoints that might be more acceptable to a 21st century reader.

For example, in An American in Scotland, Rose does a lot of things that would have horrified her neighbors in New York and scandalized her neighbors in South Carolina. She would probably have been ostracized in both communities for her abolitionist views. Yet we, being 21st century people, wish she went farther to oppose slavery.

A reviewer chided me for writing about mills in Scotland that were pro-slavery. No, they weren’t pro-slavery. It’s that American slavery was “just business”. They might have personally abhorred it, but they tolerated doing business with the American South because they needed their cotton. That review was a case of our 21st century values colliding with history.

March 2016

Michael Noll Michael Noll is the Editor of Read to Write Stories.

2 Responses to “An Interview with Karen Ranney”

  1. Karen Ranney March 25, 2016 at 8:02 p03 #

    Thank you for the great interview, Michael. I loved your questions – some of the best I’ve ever received.

    I thoroughly enjoy your site as well.

  2. michaelnoll1 March 25, 2016 at 8:02 p03 #

    Karen, thank you so much for your thoughtful answers.

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